House Speaker Paul Ryan began the hard work Tuesday of convincing nervous Republicans to back the party and its presumptive standard-bearer -- even as he disavowed Donald Trump’s racially charged comments about a judge in his strongest terms yet, calling them the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”
The speaker condemned the comments as a growing chorus of GOP figures did the same, reprising concerns they’ve had for months about the billionaire businessman’s barbed tone and no-apologies style. With the primary season set to mostly wrap Tuesday night, the presumptive nominee and party leaders still are having visible difficulty navigating their arranged political marriage.
In a radio interview late Monday, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell even agreed with the notion that November represents a “lesser of two evils election,” though he dismissed Hillary Clinton as seeking a third Obama term.
Meanwhile, Ryan on Tuesday tried to quell the rancor in the Republican Party by unveiling the first plank of the GOP platform.
"People know what Republicans are against," Ryan said in a video posted on Twitter before announcing a plan to overhaul the nation's poverty programs. "Now, we're going to give you a plan that shows what we are for."
Ryan unveiled the first of several policy proposals at an alcohol and drug treatment program in the nation's capital. Called “A Better Way,” Ryan’s proposals would make changes to welfare, food and housing aid, increase work requirements, make aid more efficient and give states more decisions on how benefits are rolled out.
The rollout comes as Republicans seek to distance themselves from the latest firestorm surrounding comments Trump made about U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, claiming the judge can't be impartial in lawsuits against Trump University because his parents were born in Mexico and Trump wants to build a wall along the border.
Trump’s comments were immediately denounced by a number of high-profile Republicans, some of whom had previously supported him. Ryan himself disavowed Trump’s remarks Tuesday, calling them “unacceptable.”
Yet Ryan said the comments didn’t alter his support for Trump over presumptive Democratic nominee Clinton.
“We have a greater likelihood of getting our policies enacted than with Hillary Clinton as president,” he said at a press conference announcing the proposals.
Ryan also is appealing to frustrated Republican voters backing Trump, but who are upset with the party itself.
"We can get angry and we can stay angry or we could channel that anger into action," Ryan said in a video posted to his website Friday.
Ryan’s attempt to change the conversation was echoed by other Republican leaders who have expressed frustration at Trump’s dominance of the political conversation.
"I'm not going to be sucked into talking about Trump 24-7," said No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas on Monday evening as he was asked for his response to Trump’s remarks. "We're going to talk about our work and what we're doing here."
As part of his effort to coalesce support behind him, Trump also met Tuesday with House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas at Trump Tower. The meeting comes as Hensarling unveiled details of a plan to replace the Dodd-Frank Act and end taxpayer-funded bank bailouts.
Ryan has made clear that his support is predominantly because he believes a Republican in the White House would be more likely to help enact his policy goals. On Thursday, Ryan will also release a national security plan, followed by plans on other issues, including the Constitution and health care in coming weeks.
Ryan’s proposal looks to consolidate food and housing programs, while also creating incentives for states to improve programs, and to help get recipients back to work.
Some of the proposals, such as scaling back the Obama administration's stricter nutrition rules for school meals, are already in motion.
Ryan's plan was criticized by Democrats, even before they were formally announced.
"While Speaker Ryan rolls out a swanky new policy agenda in an attempt to offer an alternative vision to that of Donald Trump, Americans across the country are struggling," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., ahead of the release. "The only `better way' that Speaker Ryan's recommendations will offer is a better way to fall into poverty."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.